Ah, Spotify. I was skeptical at first; I’d stopped buying physical CDs years ago, but to stop buying music altogether and subscribe? Madness! But eventually you won me over and with the release of your great Android client1 with offline mode I said good bye to iTunes for good and entered a world of millions and millions of great tracks from artists all over the globe.

So why did you have to invite that other guy to the party? And not only did you invite him, you insisted I had to be his friend just so I could continue to spend time with you.

I’m of course talking about he unholy relationship between Spotify and Facebook. As of last week, Spotify began to require every new subscriber to have a Facebook account. Since I’m a long time Spotify subscriber, it didn’t actually affect me as current subscribers did not have to comply to the new requirement. But the concept that you need to have an account on a social network to be able to pay for a music service is just absurd. It’s like a grocery store demanding that you show them your pilot’s license before they’d sell you a loaf of bread.

All right, so not the best comparison, but you get the idea. Because of Spotify’s tight and unnatural integration with Facebook, I decided to move to another music service that should, theoretically, give me more or less the same service for the same monthly fee: A subscription service with millions of tracks available using a PC client and an Android client with offline mode. Same shit, different wrapping, basically. The service is the Norwegian WiMP (Wikipedia article).

Before I start this rant, I should tell that I once had very tight connections with Aspiro Group, co-creators of the service. A few years back (does time fly!), Aspiro Group bought a company I co-founded and I ended up sharing office space with the people building the WiMP service.

Anyway.

Even though Spotify and WiMP are theoretically the same type of service, they are also very different. Their choice of technology, streaming quality, editorial approach and the track availability make them stand light years apart.

WiMP scores high when it comes to how they present the music. There is a lot of effort going into making playlists, campaigns and presenting new releases. They also have some great music that is not available on Spotify, for instance Pink Floyd. The problem for WiMP, however, is that Spotify crush them in every other aspect:

Cross-platform

WiMP has decided to use Adobe Air to create a client that works on every platform supported by Adobe Air: Windows, OS X and Linux. This might have sounded like a great idea once, but the main problem with cross-platform frameworks is that you sacrifice performance for the convenience of not having to port your code to various platforms. Compared to Spotify, the WiMP client feels sluggish and non-responsive.

Sound quality

WiMP streams in 64 kbit/s HE-AAC  and 256 kbit/s AAC, while Spotify has chosen Vorbis as their codec, streaming in 160 kbit/s and 320 kbit/s. I don’t know much about codecs and I’m not audiophile, but the Spotify streams sound better to me (even before I learned the actual codecs and bit rates used).

Track availability

Spotify has 5 million more tracks in their archive than WiMP. When I imported my Spotify playlists in WiMP some of the greatest tracks got lost in translation. It’s great that they have Pink Floyd, but in my opinion, diversity is more important than having the big names.

Streaming technology

WiMP uses a classic client-server approach, while Spotify is using peer-to-peer technology. Peer-to-peer has both pros and cons. On the con side, other people are hogging your precious bandwidth. On the pro side, the buffering time is close to nothing and changing tracks and fast forwarding is practically happening as fast as it would if you were playing local music files. Using WiMP it’s sometimes very obvious that you are using a client that has to wait for a server somewhere to spin up a disk.

Android client

The WiMP client is more feature rich than the Spotify client. It has a better search system and you get the feeling that the music is a lot more available than on Spotify. Also, both clients have offline modes, which is a must for me. The shuffle feature on the WiMP client  actually works, which is not the case for Spotify. So, all in all, the WiMP client should feel better than the Spotify client, yes? No. There are two things that seriously grinds my gears with the WiMP client. First of all, it doesn’t support play/pause and skipping tracks with the headset button. What the hell is that all about? In addition to this, you can’t be logged in on the mobile and the desktop clients at the same time. I used this a lot on Spotify: Listen to a great album on the desktop client, add it to a playlist and then log on to the mobile client to make it available offline. With Spotify, you’d only run into trouble if you actually started playing music using both clients, but with WiMP you’re not even allowed to log in with the mobile client before the desktop client logs you out.

Final thoughts

But in spite of all this, will I go back to Spotify? Unless the lack of support for the headset button2 in WiMP drives me mad, I won’t. The only way to tell companies, in this case Spotify, that they have made bad a decision is to talk the only language they understand:

Money.

In my humble opinion, however, WiMP will have to have a good look at their choice of coding tools, streaming technology and quality if they have any ambitions of competing with Spotify. And a re-branding should also probably be considered – WiMP? Really? Yeah, I know it’s an acronym, but who wants to use a service calling itself a wimp? Excessive lack of confidence isn’t really that attractive.

Footnotes

  1. Even though you never managed to implement a proper shuffle function: Shuffle playlist, playlist stops after three songs. Man, I can’t even begin to describe how annoying that was.
  2. In case anyone working on the WiMP Android client is reading this, here’s the key event code used for the headset button: KEYCODE_HEADSETHOOK. Off you go to your computer, then.